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Sri Lanka Tamils welcome land, demand end to army occupation

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Colombo: Sri Lanka’s main opposition today welcomed President Maithripala Sirisena’s promise of land for 100,000 people who were forced from their homes during the long civil war, most of them Tamils.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said Sirisena’s pledge to give displaced civilians new plots within six months was a “positive development”, but demanded that the military vacate the private land it occupied.

“This is the first time he is giving a timeframe,” TNA spokesman M A Sumanthiran told AFP a day after Sirisena made the offer.

“We welcome this as a very positive development but our stand is that the military must vacate all private lands they are occupying.”

Sirisena, who was elected last January, has won praise for starting to hand back land after the end in May 2009 of one of South Asia’s longest and bloodiest ethnic wars.

But he is also under international pressure to do more to ensure reconciliation.

The president told AFP in an interview yesterday he would give land to civilians displaced by war by the middle of this year.

He admitted it was an “ambitious target” but said it was necessary to end what he called an “unacceptable situation”.

The land will be in addition to the property being handed back by the military in line with an earlier election pledge by Sirisena.

More than 100,000 people are still living away from their homes more than six years after the end of the war, Sumanthiran said, while another 168,000 live as refugees in neighbouring India.

The civil war pitted troops against guerrillas fighting for independence for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island.

The fighting claimed over 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009.

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